Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Goose Haiku

In the popup blind

Eric's cure for the dry heaves.

Avoid the fencerow.


Test Test I guess it works. Rich congrats on the move to the fingerlakes. I guess we will have to blind fold you now when going to the good spots.HAHA

The End?

Sunday morning. Pennsylvania grouse season ended quietly at sunset on Saturday: Pete and I and our tri-colored phalanx of Labradors, walking quietly through cover and then back along the road to the trucks in the gathering twilight.

Snow falling like God’s own dandruff, “What to do with 43 ducks” recipe simmering on the stove, pot of coffee at my elbow, streaming bluegrass music out of Alberta (CKUA.com radio; I give it my highest recommendation), McPhee sprawled out on the dogge bed downstairs in front of the fire, and the kids finally settled down, it is (finally) a good time to reflect. Better bang something out, ‘cause the peaceful easy feeling is ephemeral: too much can change too quickly. (postscript 1: that feeling vanished when encountering the new blog).

This has been a singular season, and more than any other, I’ve been haunted (or just distracted?) by the prospects of change: everything is temporary. Fergus said it well (A Hunter’s Book of Days”), writing of the same landscape:

…it is no solace, no solace at all, to come to an understanding that nothing lives forever, not even in memory: not the coverts we hunt, nor the birds we pursue, nor the dogs we hold close and whose bodies we memorize with our hands; nor the partners who accompany us on our days afield…”

McPhee turns 11 next week. He had probably his best year since moving back from Alberta in 2001: healthy, fast (but thank goodness gracious not as fast as he used to be), and birdy as hell. I remember when he was coming off ACL surgery a couple of years ago and the poor Dirt Doc had to listen to me whine ad nauseum about how he was all washed up, etc. This year, he got to retrieve a handful of grouse, about a dozen pheasants, and a few ducks. And that Merganser. Tasty. Billy “Lawless” Siemer got to watch the poor old dogge knock me over after he changed his mind after delivering to me a downed grouse up at Black Lake. I’m not so sanguine to assume anything besides this being a crescendo year before the end comes. I hope to be pleasantly surprised, but it was still pretty tough walking out at as the light faded. There will be other dogs, but never one that takes the place of your first. (postscript 2: he had a massive seizure on Sunday night, his first in the last 9 months. Took him about 10 minutes to come out of it; thought we were gonna lose him this time).

As winter has muscled fall out of the way, there’s something else on my mind that is forcing me to look at this landscape with a fresh eye, durn it. You never love a place as much as when you might leave it or lose it. It looks pretty likely that I’ll be heading north: next fall I will be looking for new coverts (and trying to not pound the piss out of the ones my Finger Lakes Friends have shown me, heh-heh). It will be a change for the better, but certainly not without regret. This is a good thing: who wants to run away screaming from a place, a life? Pete and I will hunt again together, but probably never again as our regular Saturday morning routine: Coburn, the “Cobert Covert”, Broken Rib, and The Valley. I’ll miss that, even if I am still “0 for Pennsylvania” on grouse, and some of our most creative duck hunting involved trying to do “duck drives”, pushing the semi tame mallards away from streamside houses, front yard pools laced with bread crumbs down to where it was legal to take ‘em…what with my ethics.

Another passing of time

Did any one of you notice Cagey's attempt at letting another year slip by unnoticed? Guess what the gig is up!

Happy --th birthday Cabin Boy, hope ypu have many more! By the way how was the skiing, not too hard on the old bones I hope!


I'm on!!!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Moving to the new blogger

If you guys are ready to make the move to the new blogger, let's do it. I'll try to make that change later today, you'll all need to switch over to be able to post.

Post script, 11:45 am: Okay lads, the switch is done. Sign up for new blogger whenever you get a chance. thanks.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Danielle's First Rabbit Hunt

Although I was very sad to see waterfowling season end I was ready for a break from wallowing in the mud it was a miserable season weather wise.However now we are on to the fun of chasing those rascsly rabbits around and it is alot of fun with a good beagle and a great way to introduce young kids to hunting because of the action you get to move alot and hear the dogs on the chase and if you shoot like me there is plenty gunfire on a good rabbit hunt. Danielle is 8 and has been wanting to go rabbit hunting so we headed out this weekend with the Red Ryder and the beagle and had a great time. Danielle enjoyed kicking the piles to get the rabbits moving and then we let the dog take over and the hunt was on.We had a great hunt taking 2 rabbits behind the house and then finishing up at the Tidball Canoga Creek Conservancy also taking 2 rabbits It was a great day of hunting and family time whenever you can combine those two things it is a great day.

See you in the field Eric

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Speak, talk... noise?

In the spirit of season wrap-ups, here are some snippets of my 06-07 fall-winter seasons: In contrast to just a couple years ago, my bird season consisted of only about 10 hours of hunting (we've all heard it -- “…life as you know it will be over…”).

I was able to get out a couple times for birds while traveling in VT and CT, so Spy got into some woodcock, grouse, and ticks. The best hunting was on a warm late morning in early October in VT on a state WMA where we moved 17 woodcock and a few grouse in an hour and a half. That hunt resulted in a “this-is-this” photo of Nolan inspecting the take.

This year, for the first time since I’ve had a bird dog, I did not kill a grouse. Fortunately on the second VT outing I had a friend along who, in addition to taking a picture of my dog pointing a bird (look 3 or 4 feet to Spy’s left, it’s sitting facing away)...

...he connected on a grouse Spy pointed, which was really nice as the friend doesn’t get much chance to hunt birds… and I had missed with both barrels. And Spy got grouse feathers in his mouth, so that was good. Of course, we didn’t get the bird Spy was pointing in the photo; it didn’t matter that I was lulled to sleep during the picture taking process – I barely got a glimpse of the woodcock on departure as it stayed below the radar, among the tops of the leafy saplings.

Down in CT (where I spent too much time trying to kill a deer) I hunted Spy a couple hours on a state WMA, where we collected a few woodcock and more than a few ticks. Almost had a shot at a grouse there, which if I had connected would have been a one shot limit – it’s no longer legally possible to get a double on grouse in CT.

In Maine I got out twice for birds, and did not fire the gun. No need for a 40-bird recipe for me, Mr. Vicar – I just need to make plenty of mashed potatoes to stretch those Timberdoodles into a meal. At 9 years (last Sept) Spy is just about as spry as ever. This was a tough year for the poor dog, as he had to play second fiddle to young kids. I’m hoping Nolan will be big enough to tag along on bird hunts next year.

Lowlights: I got out once for ducks late in the season, thanks to a visiting neophyte hunter friend, but we did not have a duck to shoot at. It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to get out for sea ducks this year. However, I remain optimistic about the waterfowling -- I've been painting and repairing duck decoys when I get the odd hour or two at night, and am gearing up to put a new floor in the duck boat. I hope to have that done by spring ice-out, in time to troll for salmon.

With bird season over I took advantage of freakish snow-free woods to snipe snowshoe hares. Some of you may recall I did this last year as well (back pack bunny hunting). Nolan, almost 2.5 years, still fits in the backpack carrier and is as avid as ever to go bunny hunting. He’s learned to tuck his face against the back of my head when we push through the thick stuff to keep from getting lashed by branches. We got out a couple weekends ago just before the snow came, and I was able to plink a couple hares with the .22. Nolan was pretty enthusiastic about it, and gripped a bunny one-handed by a hind leg for the rest of the hunt (all the while, unbeknownst to me, blooding my side). Bunny season highlights so far have got to be the conversations I’ve had with Nolan, such as in the truck on the way to go bunny hunting: “Daddy, did you bring the decoys?”

And especially this one while driving to visit a friend after a bunny hunt:
NW: “Who’s gonna be there?”
PW: “His son Mikey will be there too”;
NW: “Oh. Is he a boy?” (yes) “Does he talk?” (yes);
PW: “His wife Sara will be there too”;
NW: “Oh. Is she a girl?”
PW: “When she was little she was a girl; now she’s a woman”
NW: “Oh. Does she talk?”
PW: “Yes, she talks”
NW: “Oh. Woman noise?”
I honestly don’t know where he got that!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bringing Femininity Back In

Has anyone seen this lady?

What to do with 43 ducks.

Braised Duck in Thai Red Curry
(recipe imported from Alberta)

Frigid winter night.
Warm fire. Friends getting plastered.
Them’s some good eats, eh?

2 large ducks, skinned
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ C vegetable oil
16 medium shallots, thinly sliced
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBL grated fresh ginger
¼ C Thai red curry paste (makes it pretty hot, but not ferjeezumcrowe hot). Adjust accordingly. Find your comfort.
3 C game bird or chicken stock
¼ C Thai fish sauce
1 can (14 oz) unsweetened coconut milk
¼ C fresh lime juice (about 2-3 limes)
3 TBL brown sugar/raw sugar
1 bunch fresh cilantro, trimmed and chopped
2 limes, peeled and diced
1 bunch green onions chopped about 2/3 the way up (including plenty of green)


Skin ducks, cut into bite size pieces. Salt and pepper to taste.
Heat oil in heavy dutch oven, high heat. Brown duck on all sides, transfer to platter.
Reduce heat to medium-low, add shallots, cook until brown.
Add garlic and ginger, cook for about 1 minute, then add curry paste.
Cook, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes.
Return duck meat to pot along with stock and simmer uncovered until duck is tender (about 30-40 minutes)
With slotted spoon, remove meat to platter, keep warm.
Cook sauce over high heat until liquid is reduced by about 1/3.
Then stir in fish sauce, coconut milk, sugar, and lime juice, bring to a short simmer.
Remove from heat, stir duck back into warm sauce.
Serve garnished with cilantro, diced lime, green onions.

Pairing Suggestion:

A nice cold “Gevertz”
Can’t spell Gewürztraminer.
Thank God for spell check.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The End

I was talking on the phone with my boss after lunch today, while looking out the window over the lake. I heard the geese first and I found myself, when I saw them, day dreaming about what they were doing, where they were going, and where I needed to be to interact meaningfully (shoot) with them. And then that bittersweet realization washed over me. I'm done...I don't need to continue the waterfowl vigil, the ever alert opportunistic catalog of the whereabouts and habits of the most wanted. A mixture of relief and sadness of the nostalgic variety gripped me momentarily, until the next thought sunk in...that I would sleep.

The second half of the waterfowl season was both frustrating and rewarding at once. Though limits were hard to come by, I took pride in rarely going home empty handed the entire second half, and I hunted all but two days of the two week season. I derived immense satisfaction in finally seeing it all come together a few times without being under the watchful eye of the teachers, the mentors. Both Eric and I shared this as an important goal, to prove to ourselves that we could do this thing, alpha to omega, soup to nuts, on our own. It was not dissimilar to, in the movie "A River Runs Through It," the point at which the young fly-fisherman played by Brad Pitt finds his own casting rhythm and style and is successful, a fact not lost on his father and brother in the movie. This season, I felt I came into my own. This is, of course, not the end.

Fiona ended up with 43 retrieves this year, almost half of which were during one amazing dozer pile duck hunt. I hoped to get her to 45, and Jim and I almost did, on the last day of ducks. Three ducks were brought to hand that day- by Rich’s dog McPhee. When it was Fiona’s turn, the wind had changed drastically, and the two ducks we managed to knock down gave us the slip in the wavy chop. Fiona is 12 years old in a couple of months. God, do I dread the end.

Today was the last day of goose hunting for me. And for Eric and Nick, who had chalked up 118 retrieves by sundown last night. Our goal was to get Nick over 120. The weather today was extraordinary...snow, sun, driving rain, wind, hail, blue skies. The geese were flying, but struggling and reluctant to put down just anywhere. We were fortunate to be hunting near the quarry, ideal shelter on a day like today. We scratched down two by eleven, and Nick was at 120. The highlight was seeing more snow geese in the sky than I ever thought possible at one time. The lowlight was missing a once in a lifetime double opportunity as birds came dumping in to the spread as we were picking up. I don’t mean two birds with two shots, I mean two birds with one shot, as two kamikaze geese hovered inches from each other over the decoys at 40 yards, and at one point overlapped perfectly. What can I say, it was windy. But that won’t be the last word, not on shooting, not on calling, not on hunting...but it was the end of the season, which of course, God willing, is not the end. Then again, if it was the end, I have few complaints.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Out with the old and in with the new!

Well it was a tough start to the second season with very little to brag about around the campfire. This picture is of a portion of the gang that hunted the dozer pile on the last day of the old year. Despite the high numbers of hunters that day, 9 in all, we did manage to scratch out one lonely bird. If you look closely on the left side of the picture you can notice a young hunter perfectly camouflaged. He was the only one to bag a bird on this day. He did this while both Mike O. And Ernie were out in the decoys trying to change the spread. Some big movement in the spread.

By contrast this next picture is a shot of the happy hunters after their hunt on the first day of the new year. The dozer pile was abandoned for the hedge row on the Thompson farm. The birds once again told us how to hunt this field in spite of our insistence as to where we thought they should land. It was a muddy day with warm temperatures again. We wanted the birds to come to the corn field but they wanted the wheat field. Once we decided that they were right and we were wrong we finale started to bag birds. Big Jim started off the killing, which soon caused Mike O to join him and Ernie in the hedge row. Mike lead the charge to the field to bring more decoys to the wheat and was soon followed by Ernie in the move. Keith and Eric were insistent that the corn would work out. Brent soon gave up the corn to take part in the ground pounding from the hedge. Once it started raining birds the entire group headed for the hedge.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Searching for Tragic Pleasure Redux

Many of you might recall a certain thesis I wrote a few years back on the topic of hunting. Well, Michael Pollan's new book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, covers some of the same ground--except that he's a better writer.

Here's an excerpt from the hunting chapter of the book, where Michael takes a hunter ed class and then goes out and kills himself a big-ass wild pig. Enjoy.

Walking with a loaded rifle in an unfamiliar forest bristling with the signs of your prey is thrilling. It embarrasses me to write that, but it is true. I am not by nature much of a noticer, yet here, now, my attention to everything around me, and deafness to everything else, is complete. Nothing in my experience has prepared me for the quality of this attention. I notice how the day's first breezes comb the needles in the pines, producing a sotto voce whistle and an undulation in the pattern of light and shadow tattooing the tree trunks and the ground. I notice the specific density of the air. But this is not a passive or aesthetic attention; it is a hungry attention, reaching out into its surroundings like fingers, or nerves. My eyes venture deep into thickets my body could never penetrate, picking their way among the tangled branches, sliding over rocks and around stumps to bring back the slenderest hint of movement. In the places too deeply shadowed to admit my eyes, my ears roam at will, returning with the report of a branch cracking at the bottom of a ravine, or the snuffling of a. . .wait: what was that? Just a bird. Everything is amplified. Even my skin is alert, so that when the shadow launched by the sudden ascent of a turkey vulture passes overhead I swear I can feel the temperature momentarily fall. I am the alert man.

Hunting inflects a place powerfully. The ordinary prose of the ground becomes as layered and springy as verse--and as dense with meanings. Notice the freshly rototilled soil at the base of that oak tree? Look how the earth has not yet been crisped by the midday sun; this means wild boar--my quarry--have been rooting here since yesterday afternoon, either overnight or earlier this morning. See that smoothly scooped-out puddle of water? That's a wallow, but notice how the water is perfectly clear: pigs haven't disturbed it yet today. We could wait here for them.

Hunter and quarry maintain different but overlapping maps of the hunting ground, places of refuge and prospect, places of prior encounter. The hunter's aim is to have his map collide with his quarry's map, which, should it happen, will do so at a moment of no one's choosing. For although there's much the hunter can know, about game and about its habitat, in the end he knows nothing about what is going to happen here today, whether the longed-for and dreaded encounter will actually take place and, if it does, how it will end.

Since there's nothing he can do to make the encounter happen, the hunter's energy goes into readying himself for it, and trying, by the sheer force of his attention, to summon the animal into his presence. Searching for his prey, the hunter instinctively becomes more like the animal, straining to make himself less visible, less audible, more exquisitely alert. Predator and prey alike move according to their own maps of this ground, their own forms of attention and their own systems of instinct, systems that evolved expressly to hasten or avert precisely this encounter...

Wait a minute. Did I really write that last paragraph? Without irony? That's embarrassing. Am I actually writing about the hunter's "instinct," suggesting that the hunt represents some sort of primordial encounter between two kinds of animals, one of which is me? This seems a bit much. I recognize this kind of prose: hunter porn. And whenever I've read it in the past, in Hemingway and Ortega y Gasset and all those hard-bitten, big-bearded American wilderness writers who still pine for the Pleistocene, it never failed to roll my eyes. I never could stomach the straight-faced reveling in primitivism, the barely concealed bloodlust, the whole macho conceit that the most authentic encounter with nature is the one that comes through the sight of a gun and ends with a large mammal dead on the ground--a killing that we are given to believe constitutes a gesture of respect. So it is for Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher, who writes in his "Meditations on Hunting" that "the greatest and most moral homage we can pay to certain animals on certain occasions is to kill them... ." Please.

And yet here I find myself slipping into the hunter's ecstatic purple, channeling Ortega y Gasset. It may be that we have no better language in which to describe the experience of hunting, so that all of us who would try sooner or later slide into this overheated prose ignorant of irony. Or it could be that hunting is one of those experiences that appear utterly different from the inside than the outside. That this might indeed be the case was forcibly impressed on me after a second outing with my hunting companion and mentor, Angelo Garro, when, after a long and gratifying day in the woods, we stopped at a convenience store for a bottle of water. The two of us were exhausted and filthy, the fronts of our jeans stained dark with blood. We couldn't have smelled terribly fragrant. And under the bright fluorescence of the 7-Eleven, in the mirror behind the cigarette rack behind the cashier, I caught a glimpse of this grungy pair of self-satisfied animal killers and noted the wide berth the other customers in line were only too happy to grant them. Us. It is a wonder that the cashier didn't pre-emptively throw up his hands and offer us the contents of the cash register.

Irony--the outside perspective--easily withers everything about hunting, shrinks it to the proportions of boy's play or atavism. And yet at the same time I found that there is something about the experience of hunting that puts irony itself to rout. In general, experiences that banish irony are much better for living than for writing. But there it is: I enjoyed shooting a pig a whole lot more than I ever thought I should have.

Jim again: You can read the entire chapter at Michael Pollan's website. One of the best things I've read about hunting in a long time.

Sophie plucking

Sophie plucking
Originally uploaded by frankzappai.
This is what we've all been waiting for, parents. Ahh, the life.

Hen mallard courtesy of Canoga Creek. Photo courtesy of Julia.